Hiking in Utah and Having Fun in Las Vegas

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Utah and Las Vegas: October 20-31, 2021

If you just want quick ideas on what to do and where to stay in Utah and Las Vegas, please read the bullets below. For more in depth information and to get the inside scoop, continue reading. If you enjoy hiking in Utah, I’ve got some great trails for you! Make sure you buy a paper map when traveling in Utah as cell phone service is not always available. Please note some of these links contain affiliat links and I get a small commission at no cost to you.

Accommodations

What We Did

Below is a map of our travels. To zoom in and out, double click on your mouse.

Day 1

We flew Southwest from BWI Airport to Salt Lake City and arrived at 1 pm. We had rented a mid size SUV that was upgraded free of charge. I had assumed it would be 4WD but it was not. No worries, we just acted like it was!

Our first stop was at the famous Salt Lake via Great Salt Lake State Park. The cost was $5 which included a nice visitors center and a walking area to the lake. There’s really not much to see but a large body of water. My husband tasted the water which you DO NOT want to do (it’s 10x saltier than the ocean). Antelope Island is supposed to be pretty cool, so if you have time visit this area.

We then checked out the Gigal Sculpture Garden. It’s in a residential neighborhood and kinda hard to find. It is free of charge and was empty when we visited. It’s worth a stop to spend 20 minutes experiencing the tranquility of the gardens and sculptures.

Salt Lake City is famous for the Temple Square area of the City. Unfortunately, this area was fenced in and under construction. We only got a brief idea of what this area is all about.

We checked into the Peery Hotel which is within walking distance from Temple Square and probably would have been a good choice had the square not been under construction. The hotel was quite nice and within walking distance to many bars and restaurants. Our stay was tainted by a couple staying next to us that was intermittently arguing very loudly from 5 pm until about 1 am in the morning until I asked the front desk to do something about it. Needless to say I got very little sleep.

For dinner, we went across the street to Squatters Pub Brewing. The food was very good and everyone was very friendly. Salt Lake City had a reputation for being a dry city but much has changed in the last 15 years. Salt Lake City now appears to be a hip, happening city with a small town feel.

Overall, I would say I was very impressed with Salt Lake City. The City was very clean, modern, and seemed safe. I would like to go back and explore the City in more detail.

Day 2

Since Temple Square was closed, we were determined to see a Mormon temple and went to Provo Temple as suggested by a friend. It was a short detour on our way to Moab. I got the impression we were not allowed past the gates so we took a picture from afar. Honesty, the temple was far less impressive than I had imagined.

On our way to Moab, we also stopped in Green River City to see the World’s Biggest Watermelon. We found this on one of my favorite apps, Roadside America. While we were there, we also visited the John Wesley Powell River History Museum and took a short walk on a newly built river trail. The watermelon was less than impressive as was the museum but we bought a sweet Casaba melon at a roadside stand. Green River is known as the melon capital of the world. One thing to note about Utah, there is a lot of free ranging cows which you will encounter on trails and in the middle of the road. We saw a couple dead cows along the road so please be careful driving especially at night as they are not intelligent creatures.

Since we arrived in Moab early, we decided to try out our non 4WD SUV and do some slight off roading on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land down the 4 mile long Willow Springs Road off Highway 191. The road started out ok, but about half way through, it got kinda dicey and you really needed a jeep with high clearance to manage it more successfully than we did. The road ends at Arches National Park which bypasses the park fee booth. Before you get to the park, make sure you stop at the Willow Springs Dinosaur Track Site but watch out for scorpions! As a side note, the rental car company has you sign a document that you will not do any off roading or go on any dirt roads in your vehicle. Continue reading to see how we got around that one.

We visited several iconic arches while at the park and did some hiking in Utah. Overall, the park was fairly crowded especially for October. Due to COVID, many National Parks are becoming year round attractions with the only off season during very cold weather. We visited the following sites: Balanced Rock , The Windows and the Turret Arch (a 1.2 mile round trip hike, ), Delicate Arch (a 3 mile round trip hike), and Sand Dune Arch ( a short 0.4 mile walk). My favorite arch was Sand Dune Arch which was being visited by a photographer taking pictures of a newly married couple. None of the hikes were very strenuous. We visited Arches National Park in a little over half a day. As a side note, my goal on this trip was to do planks everyday so I took the opportunity to do them with a magnificent view in the background.

After visiting Sand Dunes Arch, we checked into our VRBO in Moab. The house was very cute, small (which was expected) and perfect for spending a couple days in Moab. There was even a shared hot tub which we utilized at the end of the day with some cocktails. I would recommend staying here. It was also within walking distance to many restaurants and bars in the area.

Since it was Joe’s birthday, I decided to treat him to his favorite food: Steak. We walked to Josie Wyatt’s Grill for dinner and sat at the bar. The food was very good and they even had Pisco Sour’s which reminded me of our trip to Peru.

Day 3: More Hiking in Utah

We headed out to Canyonlands National Park for the day to do some more hiking in Utah. We visited the following sites: Aztec Butte (1.8 mile hike), Upheaval Dome (1.7 mile hike), Green River Overlook, and Grand View Point Overlook. Aztec butte is a great hike and a bit of a struggle to get to the top but well worth it. Remember to follow the Cairns as they will direct you to the safest route . When you get to the top, look for more Cairns which will direct you to the granary. It is hidden into the side of the butte and can be easily missed. This was our favorite hike of the day.

Our last stop for the day was at Dead Horse Point State Park. There is a $10 entrance fee but well worth it for the amazing view of the Colorado River. There is not much else to do but they do have camping opportunities.

When we returned to Moab, we decided to walk to a local watering hole that was recommended by the bar patrons at dinner last night. We are attracted to dive bars and this one exceeded our expectations. Word to the wise: We were overcharged for our drinks. I’m assuming the sketchy but entertaining bartender took advantage of us because we were tourists. Ask for drink prices before you purchase anything! Also, there is no food available.

Day 4

Our next day we drove toward Blanding, Utah where we thought we were staying for the night (more on this later). We stopped to visit the petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock State Historical Monument which is part of Bears Ears National Monument. It turns out these were the most impressive petroglyphs we would see on our trip.

Our first stop in Blandon was at Edge of the Cedars State Park. The park had a great museum and Indian ruins. We spent well over an hour learning about the native Indians that lived and continue to live in the area.


Our next stop was at the The Dinosaur Museum. You wouldn’t expect to see a dinosaur museum in this tiny town, but it was quite impressive with actual dinosaur bones, life like dinosaur replicas, and dinosaur themed movie and tv posters. For $5 this museum is well worth a stop during your travels, especially if you have children.

Check in to our hotel was not until 3 pm, so we decided to drive a little further and visit Bluff Fort Historic Site. The town of Fort Bluff appears to be very much an active Mormon community as it was during the 1800’s. The site consists of an inside museum and several cabins with replicas of the people’s homes who lived here. They even contained pictures and actual items the pioneers owned which were on loan or donated by family members. Old wagons and other pioneer equipment are also displayed. It is is free to get in but donations are welcomed (it is privately owned). I was very impressed with our visit ands it looks like the town has an active interest in maintaining this historic site. Be sure to read about the 250 mile long Hole in the Rock Trail which was forged by the early Mormon pioneers. As an aside, the “Mormons” prefer to be called “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” or “Latter-day Saints”. You will see them referred to as Mormons on this blog.

We still had some time to kill so we decided to check out the Sand Island Petroglyphs in Bluff, Utah. Turn at the sign for Sand Island Campground as the petroglyphs are next to the campground. It is a very short walk to see them and worth a stop.

We then headed toward our hotel in Blanding. When we got there, I realized that I had booked the room for the wrong night. The only room available was a more expensive family room so we decided to continue to Torrey, Utah where we could get a good start on seeing Capital Reef National Monument.

One thing to note about driving in Utah and many western states. Free range cow grazing is prevalent. This means that you will encounter cows in the middle of the road and they will not move. We almost hit a herd of them at 10 pm at night while driving to Torrey. There was evidence that not everyone had avoided them.

We stayed for one night at Capitol Reef Resort. The room was overpriced, but as most places were full we were happy to have a bed to sleep in.

Day 5: Hiking in Utah’s Less Visited Park

Our first stop for the day was at the Visitor Center at Capital Reef National Park where we purchased an interpretive guide of the Notom-Bullfrog Road. This proved to be a good cheap investment. The guide lists 37 attractions along the route from the visitor center down Notom-Bullfrog road, west across Burr Trail Road, and north up Route 12. This road is 24 miles long with 15 miles of it paved. It took us an entire day to do the trip including doing some more hiking in Utah on the Burr Wash Trail and Headquarters Canyon Trail.

The Burr Wash Trailhead is 16.9 miles from the visitor center and assessed through BLM land. The trail is 7.6 miles long and marked as a moderate hiking level. The trail was mostly flat but as you kept walking upstream it turned into a small canyon. I think we could have continued to keep walking up the canyon and it would have gotten much narrower. A wash is a name for a seasonal stream that only flows during rain events. If you follow the cairns or dry stream bed you can’t get lost.

Headquarters Canyon was a great hike as there were few people there and it was very scenic. The trail is only 2.2 miles and is an easy hike.

We checked into our VRBO around 4 pm. The owner met us to show us around. The house was very nice and well stocked with all the amenities we needed including beer, breakfast, and even dinner pantries. I wished we had stayed another night. I would highly recommend this VRBO if you are visiting Capital Reef.

Day 6

We had decided to stick closer to home and do less driving so we visited the Fruita Historic District, Capital Gorge Trail, Hickman Bridge Trail, Fremont Petroglyphs, and ended with a trip to the only local grocery store: Chuck Wagon.

The Fruita Historic District has a campground, a building which sells novelty items and canned food, an orchard, and a museum which was closed due to COVID. The mule deer were very tame in this area and were sleeping and grazing in the campground. This was the most heavily visited part of the park.

Capitol Gorge Trail is a popular 4.5 mile trail rated as a moderate hiking level. Check out the pioneer register about 0.6 miles in which has names etched into the rock of the early settlers. We had assumed it was graffiti which has become a problem in the area so no picture was taken. We took a side hike to the tanks which are a series of vernal pools up a pretty steep trail. Not many people do this hike so it was worth it to see them and also enjoy the quietness of the canyon. This side trail is around 0.8 miles in. We did not walk the entire Capital Gorge Trail. When you are hiking in Utah, make sure to look around as you never know what you will see. Wildlife and petroglyphs are often seen.

The Hickman Bridge trail is a moderate 1.7 mile hike. This appeared to be the most popular trail during our visit as it was close to the town of Torrey. We hiked as far as the natural bridge and back.

Our last stop for the day was at the Fremont Petroglyphs. This was the most heavily trafficked petroglyphs we had seen on our trip because they were right off the road and were a very short walk from the parking area. They are worth a visit if you do not plan on seeing any other petroglyphs during your trip. As a side note, there are two types of rock art: Petroglyphs and pictographs. A petroglyph is an image carved into stone. A pictograph is a painting on stone, using natural pigments. Some of the petroglyphs in this blog may actually be considered pictographs.

Day 7: Hiking in Utah to a Waterfall

We said goodbye to our lovely VRBO and headed toward Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to do some more hiking in Utah. We decided to do one big hike that day which was Lower Calf Creek Falls. We chose this hike because of its water feature which are few and far between in the desert environment of Utah. Lower Calf Creek Falls is a moderate 6.7 mile heavily trafficked trail. The scenic trail follows a creek most of the way and leads to the impressive falls. There are horsetail growing along the creek bed and we saw quite a few animals including wild turkeys. There are also some petroglyphs to see from afar. This was one of our favorite hikes on our trip.

We checked into our Bed & Breakfast, Canyons B&B. The facilities were very nice and well landscaped with a central area to grill out and enjoy the grounds. We were told by other guests that most restaurants were closed so we were happy we had food to grill out even though it was quite cold.

Day 8: Some of the Best Hiking in Utah

We woke up, had an amazing breakfast prepared by the hostess and decided to drive down Hole-in-the-Rock Road. This road was originally constructed by the early Mormon settlers and is a 55 mile long gravel/dirt road. We went as far as mile marker 26 to continue hiking in Utah and explore Dry Fork Narrows, Peek-a-Boo, and Spooky Canyon. These trails are all connected so you can choose to do all of them or only a couple. We did not do Peek-a-Boo Canyon as there was a large pool in the entrance which would require getting very wet.

The first mile or so of the upper dry fork trail is hard to follow and we ended up getting lost but with the help of another couple we met, we managed to find the Dry Fork Narrows. There are many cairns but it appears that some of them may not be accurate. This is a narrow slot type canyon with a seasonal stream that had standing water which required us to get our feet wet.

This led to an opening to Spooky Canyon. We went half way through Spooky Canyon before I started to get claustrophobic. This is a very narrow canyon so if you are overweight or claustrophobic this may not work for you. Very few people hiked the entire length of it. Many just went in a ways to check it out then turned around like we did. We were told you had to climb a rope to get out at the other end. Hiking in Utah can be quite the adventure but make sure you are comfortable with the trail/canyon conditions and remember there is no shame in turning around! Note that this area is a Scorpion Wilderness Study area.

On the way back, we stopped at Devil’s Garden at mile marker 12. This is an easy walk from the parking area to see hoodoos and small arches. It’s worth a stop.

Our last stop for the day was at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. I was beat, but Joe had this stop on his list of must see’s. We were told by the B&B hosts that the Sleeping Rainbows trail had the best petrified wood and it did not disappoint. If you do not take this path, you will be missing out on most of the colorful wood. We’ve been to many petrified forests, but this one had the most amazing colors made from iron, manganese and copper. I would highly recommend this as a stop. 

Day 9: Las Vegas

Today was our big push to get to Las Vegas. I booked us a room at the Golden Nugget on Fremont Street. I prefer Fremont Street over the strip as it is a smaller area to walk around and has several stages where bands play until after midnight. There is also the light show that runs at the top of every hour. The rooms are also cheaper than staying on the strip. Fremont street is the old downtown area of Las Vegas and has more character than the strip does.

On our way to Vegas, we stopped by and went through a car wash to wash the dirt and dust off the SUV we rented since we were not supposed to do any off roading in it. We returned the car with no problems and checked into our hotel.

We were meeting two other couples for this portion of our trip (Chris & Marija and Kelly & John) and on this night we had decided to dress up in Halloween costumes and explore Fremont Street. We ate a very reasonably priced and good dinner at El Cortez Casino.

Day 10

We started our day with cocktails and breakfast at CJ’s in the Golden Nugget. We got there early enough we didn’t have to wait to be seated but as we left there was a long line to get in. It seems that with COVID they are not filling all the tables either to practice social distancing or because there wasn’t enough wait staff.

Joe and I decided to hit the pool and do some relaxing. We got there as soon as they opened (10 am) and found plenty of chairs available. The pool at the Golden Nugget is pretty cool in that they have a shark tank built into the pool area. There is a waterslide that goes in the middle of it, but it was closed probably due to COVID concerns. Note that the cabanas in the middle and top floor are for reservation only.

One of the other couples, Marija and Chris, had decided to renew their wedding vows with us. Las Vegas Mobile Ministry was recommended several times through a Las Vegas Facebook group. After doing some research and looking at wedding chapels, this seemed to be the best deal by far. The four of us ended up paying $1,258 which included an Elvis impersonator, renewal of the vows in front of the Welcome to Las Vegas Sign, boutonniere, bridal bouquets, professional digital photos, and an hour long limo ride around the strip (which included pick up and drop off at the hotel).

First, Marija and I had to get our hair and make up done. I once again turned to Facebook and found Perfect Hair and Makeup, a mobile salon that came right to our room for $180 each. They did a fantastic job! I would definitely recommend them but book early.

The limo driver was only 10 minutes late and accommodated all 6 of us. The ceremony was fun and we even danced to a couple Elvis songs in front of the sign.

The photographer and officiant, Jannine Parish kept in contact with me before the ceremony to make sure everything was running smoothly and delivered the amazing photos within 1 week of returning home. It was a great experience. The limo driver even stopped at the Mirage after the ceremony so we could see the Volcano erupt.

The limo driver dropped us off at the Wynn as our next stop was the Lionel Ritchie concert! The concert was great and as usual did not disappoint. This was my third time seeing him in concert. Afterwards, we had a late night dinner at CJ’s in the Golden Nugget.

Day 11

Today we decided to explore the lesser known areas of Vegas and take an Uber ride to the Arts District. Since we got there early, there wasn’t much to see as everything was closed. We did come across a really large metal shop which has some really cool statues.

We then walked to the famous Frankie’s Tiki Room. I had read about it and it seemed like a fun time. It’s not near any other interesting sites but is easily accessible off Highway 15. Be prepared: when you enter it is VERY dark, like get out your cell phone flashlight to read the menu dark! They had lots of novelty fancy drinks called things like Mai Tai, Scurvy, Thurston Howl, and Lava Letch. The drinks were very good and strong. After just two I was feeling pretty good.

We got an Uber back and went to Fremont Street where we ate lunch at Nacho Daddy’s. This place was packed and we had to make a reservation so plan accordingly. As the name implies, they have a ton of different nacho entrees to choose from.

We walked around Fremont Street after lunch. If you travel to Vegas, you really need to add Fremont street to your list of things to do. They have a lightshow at night, zipline, lots of outside bars, and music playing all day and night and there’s always lots of odd people walking around that makes for some really good people watching. The entire street was decorated with a Halloween theme that made it really fun as well.

I had made a reservation the day before to go to La Cave restaurant at the Wynn. Ideally, we would have liked to have eaten inside the Planet Hollywood where we were going to see Gwen Stefani that night, but the restaurant looked like mostly bar food and we wanted a nice dinner. As a side note, this was one of the only restaurants that were were able to get into on short notice. Make sure you make reservations far in advance.

After the concert we went back to Fremont Street to continue the partying. This was our last night in Vegas and we were going to make the most of it! 

Our trip to Utah and Las Vegas was amazing. This was not our first time hiking in Utah and visiting the National Parks. We had previously been to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park so we decided to skip them this time. Almost all of the accommodations we stayed at were above or met our standards. I would suggest sticking to VRBO’s near the National Parks as they will save you money on food and are usually much nicer than any hotel. And Vegas is definitely more fun with good friends!

 

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